Smoke 5 Excerpts


I think we in the south of the borough always nurtured fond hopes that, in any lawless, post-apocalyptic dystopia, the people of Chingford would become our slaves. Part of me still hopes this can be arranged, actually, even without the nukes, and even though I now go about life at the mercy of Lambeth Council.

Introduction to Smoke#5 – Matt Haynes

But then London remembers. It calls you up, asks you to get back in touch. You’ll refuse, then you’ll listen, and then, as if by some peculiar magic, you’ll be walking the streets, sitting in cafes, talking with strangers, standing on Parliament Hill as the kites dance below you. You’ll remember the soft sprawl of Gunnersbury Park, not Acton’s cacophonies. The drunken loveliness of evenings in Archway, not the bills left unpaid. Springfield Park in the sunshine, not Leyton in the rain. You’ll go back to the old house and remember the warmth, not the tears. How could you forget?

Introduction to Smoke#5 – Jude Rogers

It was as if he was trying to create a balloon animal. The ferret was entirely unconcerned about the fevered manipulation its body was receiving; it merely blinked now and then. The sight of a ferret being manipulated would, in itself, have been enough excitement for me, but then the owner’s young daughter insisted on showing me her party piece. She opened her mouth and the ferret put its head in, a modest variation of the head-in-lion’s-mouth circus trick.

Rodent Rovings – Jess Sully

I stay only for a couple of hours that first day but, having visited once, I have to go back. It encroaches on me, happens to me, gradually, like it happens to Simone Simon in Tourneur’s Cat People, or so I tell myself. I’m not (noticeably) fraught with sexual neurosis and there’s little risk of my turning into a panther, but the comparison appeals and before I know it I’m standing at the window again, buying another ticket, notebook in hand.

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass – Grainne Lyons

I wondered – was there any connection between these nine floozies and those selective enclaves of London where groceries come wrapped in faux-nostalgic organic brown paper and chrysanthemums grow in window-boxes, alive, alive-oh? Any semantic or socio-linguistic root from which the words muse and mews both grew?

The Nine Mewses – Anna McKerrow

The only way out for a down-and-out Dumbo was the big-top, and even then life was hard: beneath a roundabout in Ealing lies the body of one top-hat tossing tusker who, on his way from Greenford to a matinee on Ealing Common, sounded one last mournful trump and then keeled over, halfway down Castlebar Road. Pragmatism being the better part of honour, his keeper simply rolled him over and buried him where he fell. The subsequent gyratory traffic-flow was inevitable.

The Muted Trumpet – Matt Haynes

William Shakespeare! Good Queen Bess! Morocco the Amazing Counting Horse! An age when men were real men (except possibly William Shakespeare), women were real women (except possibly Good Queen Bess), and horses were real horses (except possibly Morocco the Amazing Counting Horse, who was regularly accused of witchcraft).

Mock Tudor Soup – Lucy Munro

The fishing, I can only assume, is just a front for some far dodgier goings-on in the glades of London’s commuter belt. Every time we entered a clearing we seemed to disturb men involved in either sexual or criminal acts; or, indeed, acts that were sexually criminal. Enid Blyton villains with stubble and moustaches and no sign of fishing gear passed small blue suitcases to each other and smoked French cigarettes. Surprisingly, the sight of two hobbling bespectacled men in shorts didn’t seem to faze them.

Getting Out Of London – Ben Kersley

Now I stand on London Bridge in the dim smoke of the morning, and another year is over. Grey buildings suck in dark jackets, starched collars, shone shoes and taut ties. Cold white circles puff sharply from thin lips. I hold on to the concrete, watching each set of features pass blankly, recording each expression like a camera. A woman, bleach hardening her hair, hard lines of kohl under her lashes, a wise furrow in her brow, a tissue held to her nose by immaculate fingernails. A young man, eyes salty from the wind or from tears. A young girl, her hair damp, her arms full of flowers; she holds onto the stems, her hands supporting the tight cellophane, and looks into the river, into the grey, still water. In the midst of her moment, a clock strikes nine.

Unreal City – Jude Rogers

On we go, passing the flowery island of St Mary-le-Strand, bizarrely garlanded in thick traffic, then gliding up Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill to be set down at St Paul’s. Reverting momentarily to their South-East London roots, the 172s then loiter in packs round the back of King Edward Street before, inevitably, going home again.

Bus of the Month – Rhian Jones

Walking here, through the gloomy trench of the old lock where the gates have gone and a depth-gauge measures the height of the ivy, I passed a sign telling me golf practice was forbidden. People play golf in Rotherhithe these days. Isn’t that a thing? While up on Stave Hill a sleek white windpump shimmers in the last of the sun, pumping water into ornamental waterways no longer filled by the tides.

Ancient Works – Matt Haynes

When I return home, walking down the empty drab streets of Northolt, my own personal super-8 projection quickens and crackles into life. I’m not sure what the future holds and, looking back, I know that, if I wasn’t exactly happy, at least I was content. Especially as some things have gone wrong of late and, as I drift into the future, and feel my childhood fray into the past, I feel sad.

Flight Paths – Paul Castro

Vavona Burr – a faded sixties star, languishing in a Kensington bedsit in her false eyelashes and bright red wigs. New American Cherry – a struggling young indie band from Reading trying to get their first big break. Olive Ash – a chain-smoker who never wanted to be a spinster at 52, wasting in front of daytime television in Cheam. The names of the Veneer of the Week speak of a kind of sadness, yet are each a small triumph against the unchanging deadness of outer London motorway scenery.

Veneer of the Week – Claudia Conway

“Come back, Angel – save us!”

I carried on walking, through the subway at the Elephant.

“Come back! Angel! Give us a kiss!”

His two friends howled with laughter.

I got to the end of the tunnel and emerged into the light. I stretched my skinny, wingless arms up to the pale London sun, and thought: is this it?

The Snow Will Come Soon – Hannah Pressman

With the nuns making it very clear that anyone at St Dulcima’s caught tuning in, turning on or dropping out would receive an automatic fortnight’s detention – with possible expulsion if spotted doing all three at once – and prefects under strict instruction to report immediately any signs of psychedelic drug-use or free love in the Lower School, our experience of the great social changes then being wrought did not, I’m afraid, go much beyond the half dozen blurry polaroids Sister Fiorentina had shown us of the Monterey Pop Festival. “I bet you can barely recognise me,” she’d said softly, her freckled face reddening as she’d handed them round one rainy break. To be honest, this was scarcely true because, although just as naked and mud-smeared as the others, she was the only one wearing a wimple.

Lord, Pity This Ticketless Child – Tricity Bendix

This ancient highway, first built by the Romans to get out of London, has developed not so much organically, as bizarrely. One of those ultra-London places that caters to and for everyone, whether you be after halal nuggets or an MSG-free takeaway, a life-size toy tiger or a pint of mild in the ’Spoons. Whether the Roman legionaries would have stopped off at Fettered Pleasures for a rubber tunic, or Waitrose for some balsamic vinegar, is anyone’s guess.

Where is Holloway Road? – Rachel Stevenson

Despite my intentions, the vodka was vanishing. Alex hovered over the children sprawled across the front seats and furrowed her brow. We want to sit HERE, her expression said sternly. The little imps put their hooves on the window and carried on speaking in tongues.

Ghost Riders – Jude Rogers

Hackney has always expressed itself in filth. A place where everything is on show, crammed with the horrible details of other people’s lives, the sluggish artery of the Regent’s Canal its putrid lifeblood, Hackney frequently raises hairs, cankers feet and inflames rashes. But a new period in history has begun. Walking back along Mare Street, past open butchers’ trucks and sun-crispened roadkill and prams filled with the underwear of dead women, I contemplate what might be lost.

The State We’re In – Hester Sweete